Tips for Creating a Home for Aging Owners

From the New York Times

By Kaya Laterman

If you are redoing a bathroom, grab bars save lives, experts say. These and the teak seat are by Moen. Credit Moen

A range of renovations and adjustments can be made to our apartments or houses to help us stay in our homes for as long as possible.


Add grab bars. There are many stylish models for the bathroom that look like a towel or shampoo rack but are sturdy enough to support 500 pounds of weight if properly installed, says Chrysanne Eichner, a senior occupational therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. You can also add grab bars by the top or foot of the stairs.

Replace doorknobs with lever handles that are easier to open.

Increase lighting and replace toggle switches with either a dimmer or a rocker switch.

Think about color contrast. If you have stairs, place reflective tape at the edge of steps so you can see where each one ends. Use a brightly colored bath mat so you can see where you’ll be stepping down after bathing.

Make a decision about your throw rug, which can present a trip hazard. Secure the rug to the floor with double-sided tape, throw it out, or hang it on the wall as a tapestry, Ms. Eichner suggests.

Select light fixtures with two bulbs. If one goes out, you’ll still have light from the other bulb.

Add a lazy susan to corner shelves to make it easier to reach items at the back of a cupboard.

Rearrange items in your kitchen seasonally. Crockpots, for example, can be stored on a higher shelf over the summer, says Barbara Roth, an interior designer in Manhattan.


Replace a standard toilet, usually between 14 and 15 inches high, with a comfort-height toilet, which is 17 to 19 inches high.

Custom-build a movable kitchen island.

Widen doorways for walker and wheelchair access.


A major kitchen overhaul could include lowering counters and installing sinks that have space underneath to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. Alternatively, if you are tall and have back problems, consider increasing the counter height. Install shelves that slide out.

Remove the bathtub and install a walk-in shower with a seat. Get a hand-held shower head.

Build a ramp or install a chairlift wherever you have steps.

Other Tips

Useful guides include the city’s Aging in Place Guide for Building Owners report and AARP’s online HomeFit Guide.

Consult an occupational therapist, an interior designer, an architect and/or a contractor who has age-in-place certifications.

For low-income households needing modifications, there is help. Individuals or families making less than 80 percent of an area’s median income as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can fill out an application at Rebuilding Together NYC, a nonprofit organization that makes free repairs and modifications. Lending services can be found through nonprofit organizations, including Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City and the Parodneck Foundation.